No time for courtesy

Perhaps it is time for courtesy to be shelved. Maybe it's no longer important, expendable amid today's busyness. After all, something has to give.

Perhaps it is time for courtesy to be shelved.

Maybe it’s no longer important, expendable amid today’s busyness.

After all, something has to give.

So, when an executive assistant draws up a minister’s weekly calendar, a business development conference is a sure bet. Attended by marketing whizzes, gnarly prospectors, and power-suit-clad chief executive officers, it promises good contacts and sends the message the Yukon is focussed on business.

The “gain” is self evident. It’s a no-brainer.

And that’s probably why Premier Dennis Fentie made time to attend the Opportunities North Conference last fall. He wanted to further growth and investment in the territory.

And that’s an important goal in a place that was granted more than $760 million of its $1 billion budget from Ottawa, and where private-sector jobs—including local entrepreneurs totally dependent on government contracts—have fallen to just 57 per cent of the workforce from 62 per cent in 2003.

The territory’s private-sector is clearly anemic.

Last year, the Yukon only generated 11 per cent of its own revenue. That’s down from 13 per cent in 2003.

So appearing to further private-sector growth is clearly a priority for a Yukon cabinet minister.

Other events are clearly less useful.

Last week, people were invited to walk through Yukon Hall.

The abandoned building was once a residence for a Whitehorse residential school.

The walkthrough was symbolic, a chance to lay to rest the ghosts of the painful era, which saw families sundered, children killed and abused and, as a result, generations of people horribly traumatized.

RCMP officers attended the walkthrough to pay their respects to the people of the Kwanlin Dun First Nation, which hosted the event.

Local residents, consultants, business people and civil servants, both white and aboriginal, wandered the halls.

All the major media outlets sent representatives.

Politicians from the New Democratic Party, the Liberals and independent John Edzerza came to share the experience, which, for some aboriginal people, helped bring some closure.

Tears were shed, but there was also laughter and more than a few hugs.

But not a single member of the government was there to witness it.

It’s hard to understand why.

Premier Dennis Fentie said they were too busy.

The walkthrough stretched from 9 a.m. until 7 p.m.

Yukon Hall is a five-minute drive from government offices, a 20-minute walk.

It was attended by several hundred people. It was clearly important to the aboriginal community and yet … not one.

“We do fully support First Nations in every level of our obligation,” Fentie told the legislature when asked why his team took a pass.

The impacts of the residential school system are felt in the social system, the justice system, the education system and among generations of aboriginal people, he said.

The government is dealing with it, he added.

“It is incumbent upon all of us to not reduce the critical importance of dealing with these challenges in today’s society for Yukon by simply defining them as who attended what event.”

And that might be true.

Maybe attendance doesn’t matter.

Maybe it’s more important to draft policy. To stick to the office dealing with the persistent problems without seeing tears and laughter and hugs.

Without hearing the stories—the rare joys and the enduring pain.

Maybe rolling up your sleeves is enough.

At Yukon Hall, a member wouldn’t be fostering growth and investment opportunities.

It was more subtle than that.

It provided insight and context.

It was a step in healing the rifts of a shameful, deeply damaging time.

It was an opportunity to share, to understand another person’s pain.

Attending was, at the very least, a courtesy.

And that’s expendable in the face of a busy schedule building the territory. (Richard Mostyn)